US man found guilty in plot to behead witnesses

A US man serving a 45-year sentence for a terror plot to attack a military base and overseas targets was found guilty today in a murder-for-hire plot to behead witnesses who testified against him.

Hysen Sherifi, 28, of North Carolina was found guilty today of nine counts related to the murder-for-hire plot, US Attorney Thomas Walker said. Sherifi will be sentenced in February, when he faces a maximum sentence of life behind bars.

"This conviction is further evidence of our resolve to pursue those who seek to attack our freedoms and destroy the way of life we all cherish," Walker said in a news release.

Sherifi represented himself at the trial, which began Monday in US District Court in the North Carolina capital, Raleigh. After opening statements by prosecutors, Sherifi read religious verses in Arabic and lectured jurors on their meaning in English.

"We fight for Allah. We have authority. Do you have authority to make laws for mankind?" Sherifi told jurors. "We do not make laws. We follow the laws that have been revealed by Allah."

He continued the same theme in closing arguments yesterday, when Judge Earl Britt stopped Sherifi from saying "that all judgment belongs only to Allah" and told him to argue his guilt or innocence. Britt eventually had US marshals handcuff Sherifi and take him from the courtroom to a jail cell.

Sherifi was one of six Raleigh-area Muslims convicted last year of plotting to attack the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia, and overseas targets. That case hinged largely on surveillance tapes made by confidential informants paid by the FBI, with no direct evidence any of the men had actually agreed to kill anyone.

A prosecutor said in opening arguments Sherifi tried to hire a hit man to behead government witnesses who testified against him in his terror trial. His brother Shkumbin Sherifi, 22, and former special education teacher Nevine Aly Elshiekh, 47, of Raleigh pleaded guilty to lesser charges last week and testified against Hysen Sherifi.

Hysen Sherifi was in custody in the terror case when he asked another inmate to help him hire a hit man, said prosecutor Matthew Blue of the US Justice Department's counterterrorism section. That inmate contacted the FBI, and federal agents set up a sting operation.

Sherifi's family members are ethnic Albanians who fled Kosovo in 1999 during a brutal sectarian war with Serbs. Under questioning by Britt on Monday, Hysen Sherifi said he is a citizen of Kosovo.

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